Tag Archives: Bruce Kirkland

Take Two: Edward Norton

Edward Norton in Motherless Brooklyn

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Edward Norton in Motherless Brooklyn

It’s no coincidence that actor/director Edward Norton finally made his 1950s-style film noir, Motherless Brooklyn, when a real-life madman occupies the White House, and the United States is torn asunder with political, social and racial unrest. Yet, neither Norton nor his challenging drama, ever mentions Donald Trump or anything happening today. The film (which opens November 1st) is instead set nearly 70 years ago. It just happens to deal with the zeitgeist of current events in America.

Edward Norton plays a 1950s Brooklyn private eye who suffers from Tourette Syndrome.
Edward Norton plays a 1950s Brooklyn private eye who suffers from Tourette Syndrome.

“That is a fairly vital role for movies to play,” explains Norton. “Take Chinatown, which is a look back to the California of the ’30s, made in the ’70s. I don’t think it is coincidental at all that that movie comes at the end of the Vietnam War when the Watergate scandals were breaking open, made by a director (Roman Polanski) whose wife was murdered by a bunch of maniacs. It’s a very challenging film – this idea that the California of the American dream was built on crime, and that the people who committed these crimes raped their daughters, too.”

With other Canadian film journalists, I am sitting with Norton, and his co-star Gugu Mbatha-Raw, in an interview room at the Toronto International Film Festival, chatting about Norton’s first directorial effort in 19 years. This was a passion project for the highly regarded American actor, who is known for films as disparate as Rounders, American History X, Fight Club, Frida, 25th Hour, Moonrise Kingdom, The Bourne Legacy, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Birdman.

For Motherless Brooklyn, Norton worked on his adaptation of Jonathan Lethem’s novel for years, reorganizing the storyline and moving it from the 1990s to the 1950s. He fictionalized all the real-life characters from the ’50s. “The wisdom of doing literary versions of these things is that there is a lot of freedom to distill the essence of certain truths rather than have to explain everything,” says Norton. “There’s a reason that Citizen Kane wasn’t called Citizen Hearst,” he adds, referring to Orson Welles’ 1941 masterpiece. It was a fictionalized version of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst’s abuse of power.

Motherless Brooklyn follows a detective named Lionel Essrog, played by Norton. Afflicted with Tourette Syndrome, Lionel works for a tough, taciturn, yet sympathetic, boss played by Bruce Willis. Left alone after a tragedy, Lionel tries to unravel a multiple-murder mystery buried inside a gigantic redevelopment scheme that has racial, social and criminal implications.

Norton consulted with Lethem. “I told him that I felt that there was an issue – that he had written a ’50s hard-boiled bunch of characters, but he set them in the modern world. In film, which is very literal, I didn’t want it to feel like the Blues Brothers. You know, guys in fedoras in the modern world. And he agreed with that 100 per cent.”

Playing a man with Tourette’s, while also directing the film, posed another challenge for Norton. It was an added complication. “There were many arguments against directing and acting in this,” says Norton. “One of the arguments for it was knowing that I could experiment with the condition a lot, but also be the one who sculpted the balance of it later [in the editing room].”

Risky? Yes, but worth it, says Norton. “There aren’t a lot of things that end up being good that aren’t creatively risky on some level.”

Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


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Out of Africa

Out of Africa – what they got right in the movie

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Out of Africa – what they got right in the movie

In July, I visited a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. This is no ordinary farm. It was made famous by white colonist Karen Blixen, the Danish aristocrat and author who conjured her adventures in a lyrical book, Out of Africa.

In 1985, American filmmaker Sydney Pollack turned that 1937 autobiography, and other sources, into a romantic melodrama with Meryl Streep as Blixen. Out of Africa won hearts, generated box office revenue, promoted safari tourism in Kenya and scored seven Academy Awards.

Inexplicably, the Oscar haul included best picture. More about this perplexing, if staggeringly beautiful, epic in a moment.

Blixen’s actual farm house, Mbagathi, is now the Karen Blixen Museum, located in the affluent Nairobi suburb of Karen. The handsome dwelling is filled with some of Blixen’s belongings and more so by props donated by Universal Pictures.

Because Mbagathi was unavailable at the time, Pollack positioned cinematographer David Watkin at Blixen’s first Kenyan house, the nearby Mbogani. No matter, Hollywood always takes liberties. As I have often warned, no one should ever believe most of what they see in a film, even when it is “based on” or “inspired by” a true story. Getting “the essence” right is a better benchmark.

What I did not realize when writing about Out of Africa in 1985 was how much Pollack & company did get right. It took a 2019 African safari, and time spent in Kenya with Kenyans, to understand what really matters.

This personal reassessment astounds me. Not that film critics refuse to change their minds in the years following first impressions. But rarely does it occur for the reasons I have finally come to appreciate Out of Africa, both as a book and as a movie.

Okay, the movie is still melodramatic. The focus is still on Karen Blixen’s bad marriage to a philandering Swedish baron (played by Klaus Maria Brandauer) and her subsequent love affair with English big game hunter Denys Finch Hatton (played as a pseudo-American by Robert Redford).

Streep and Brandauer are excellent. But Redford’s boyish charm cannot salvage his boring performance. His fireside proclamations as the untamed Finch Hatton ring hollow. The love affair is a fizzle, not a sizzle.

Instead, the movie soars through its dramatization of racial and cultural complexity. At a time of British racism and colonial segregation, Blixen did things differently — and the transcendent Streep delivers this message with subtle power and dignity. We feel Blixen’s empathy for, and understanding of, the indigenous peoples, especially the Kikuyu who worked on her coffee plantation. I repeatedly experienced a modern echo of that myself in Kenya.

Leave the last word to the Kenyan guide who escorted my wife, Rachel Sa, and I around the Karen Blixen Museum. “We respect and revere her,” the young woman said of Blixen, who started a school, provided medical aid, and fought to give the Kikuyu land when she returned to Denmark in 1931. “Karen Blixen was not like the others.”

This is the gift Out of Africa still offers today.

Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


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Take Two: David Lynch

David Lynch is the ultimate disruptor of mainstream films

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David Lynch is the ultimate disruptor of mainstream films

No one has fully understood, properly analyzed or thoroughly dissected the life and times of American filmmaker David Lynch. For that, cinephiles are eternally grateful. We secretly yearn for surrealists, such as Lynch, to spin his elaborate tales because they defy gravity and turn logic into madness. Re-watch his television triumph Twin Peaks for all the giddy evidence you need. Plus, you get pie.

David Lynch
David Lynch

We need his cryptic mysteries because they do not always get solved in routine ‘whodunit’ ways. Re-experience Blue Velvet, his early cinematic masterpiece. Plus, you see the late Dennis Hopper, as the ultimate method actor, doing his career-best performance.

Blue Velvet (1986)
Blue Velvet (1986)

Finally, we value an artist who is the ultimate disruptor, because most mainstream filmmakers are now obliged to be mundane conformists by their Hollywood bosses. Reevaluate Mulholland Drive, Lynch’s mature masterwork, in this context. Plus, you get a dizzying trip into the machinations of old Hollywood.

Now 73, Lynch is in another lull in production since his successful return to Twin Peaks in 2017. No matter, something wonderful and/or weird is sure to happen. And, we are allowed more time to contemplate his universe. Not incidentally, in July and August, the Toronto International Film Festival launches David Lynch: The Big Dream at the TIFF Bell Lightbox. Setting out to chart ‘the director’s ascension from cult favourite to cultural icon,’ TIFF will screen the features Eraserhead (1977), The Elephant Man (1980), Dune (1984), Blue Velvet (1986), Wild at Heart (1990), Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), Lost Highway (1997), The Straight Story (1999) and Mulholland Drive (2001).

The Elephant Man (1980)
The Elephant Man (1980)

TIFF’s Brad Deane, who curated The Big Dream, has also lined up some of Lynch’s provocative shorts. These include his student-era drama, The Grandmother, the strange story of a neglected boy who, from a seed, grows his own grandmother as a caregiver. The ‘seeds’ of Lynch’s future work are found here.

But why now at TIFF? “For me,” says Deane. “It’s the new Twin Peaks series that triggered this – just seeing how relevant it all is and how innovative he still is as an artist. The lure is the mix of the most traditional forms of filmmaker with the avantgarde. So it is a good time to go back and revisit all the work.”

The Straight Story (1999)
The Straight Story (1999)

Meanwhile, no one who has ever met Lynch – and I interviewed him repeatedly for The Toronto Sun – has seen him without a cigarette. He’s a relentless chain-smoker. After 9/11, when stranded at the Toronto film fest, Lynch refused to join friends who offered him a lift home to New York in a non-smoking van. He waited until a smoking-friendly opportunity arose.

Puffing or not, Lynch is always charming. But every interview that I transcribed led to one conclusion: I still do not really know what goes on inside his mind. The inspiration that drew him into the sadomasochistic weirdness of Blue Velvet; the obsession with the road movie motif that led to such oddly diverse films such as Lost Highway and The Straight Story; his fascination with deformity that plunged him into The Elephant Man saga; these all eluded me.

And, yes, this is a good thing. Not all mysteries should be revealed.

Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


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ROMA - An elegiac cinematic poem

ROMA – An elegiac cinematic poem

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ROMA – An elegiac cinematic poem

As I write this, Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma has been acclaimed to a remarkable level with 10 Oscar nominations, and another 140-plus citations from critics’ circles and awards organizations world-wide.

By the time you read this, Roma will have churned through its awards season. At centre stage are the Oscars on February 24th. Roma is expected to compete with the other film tied for the nominations lead: Greek-born Yorgos Lanthimos’ wildly operatic The Favourite – an 18th century British history lesson.

No two films among Oscar’s eight best picture nominees could be more dissimilar. Their stories are radically polarized. The Favourite rips into the rich tapestry of the inept reign of Queen Anne, circa 1702 to 1714. Roma weaves a quotidian tale of a middle-class family, focusing on the clan’s indigenous nanny, in Mexico City, circa 1971.

The contrast between the two films is true for tone, mood, pace, attitude, impact, subtext, raison d’etre, socio-political acumen, stark images, and the way each director handles emotional highs/lows. Yet, both are great films.

For me, though, Roma is the stunning and timeless masterpiece, while The Favourite is a bawdy entertainment that might soon be forgotten.

Cuarón is already a double Oscar-winner for directing and editing his space drama Gravity (2013). Hurrah, but what happens (or has happened) to Roma at this year’s Academy Awards will not change its place in cinematic history as an elegiac cinematic poem. Roma is already an outlier. First, because it was produced by, and shown on, Netflix, instead of by a Hollywood studio and screened in theatres. Second, because Cuarón photographed it in lambent black-and-white, instead of lurid colour. Third, because his Spanish-language story is an intimate journey through personal memory, not a familiar English-language drama with a constructed plot.

Cuarón dedicates Roma to Lido, his own nanny of indigenous heritage. Lido raised Alfonso and his siblings from infancy. He calls her, “a second mother to us all.”

Lido is “fictionalized” as Cleo in Roma, yet feels real and authentic. She is played in her acting debut by Oscar-nominated Mexican educator Yalitza Aparicio. Her naturalistic performance is as shattering as it is understated.

Cleo works alongside Adela (also played by an indigenous newcomer, Nancy Garcia Garcia). They serve a chaotic family headed by Senora Sofia (Oscar-nominated Marina de Tavira). The husband is a lost cause. The four kids are a crazy handful. Granny is doddering. Roma charts a year of personal upheavals in their collective lives. Daily events are vividly set against the maelstrom of Mexico City earthquakes, student protests, fascist uprisings, state-sanctioned murders, government corruption and brutal oppression of indigenous people.

Yet Roma is always lyrical at its heart, if unsentimental. Much more is communicated by image than dialogue. The film’s micro scale is sometimes joyous, sometimes heart-breaking, while Cuarón subtly transcends obvious class differences. Ultimately, beautifully, the tendrils of love stretch across the class divide. Roma is a life force.

Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


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TAKE TWO: First Man

First Man – One giant leap for mankind

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First Man – One giant leap for mankind

Movies have blasted off to the moon for 106 years, first with French illusionist George Méliès’ fantastical silent short, Le Voyage dans la Lune. But nobody has done it since with the mesmerizing personal intensity that you can now experience with Damien Chazelle’s First Man.

The film is epic, historic, claustrophobic, heart-stopping, realistic and emotionally harrowing. Ryan Gosling, who is currently Canada’s preeminent star in Hollywood, portrays an American icon, astronaut Neil Armstrong. This is an exceptionally masterful performance worthy of an Oscar nomination.

Gosling vividly brings the man back from the grave, making him flesh-and-blood with all the wonderment that Armstrong possessed in life, including the courage and curiosity that propelled him into the NASA space program. But these heroic qualities are juxtaposed with his unsettling dark side, to the point that Gosling makes us queasy in family scenes where Armstrong submerges his emotions, especially with his wife Janet (Claire Foy). First Man is subtle drama, not American propaganda.

Ryan Gosling, who is currently Canada's pre-eminent star in Hollywood, portrays an American icon, astronaut Neil Armstrong, in First Man.
Ryan Gosling, who is currently Canada’s pre-eminent star in Hollywood, portrays an American icon, astronaut Neil Armstrong, in First Man.

Armstrong is worthy of such intimate probing. History remembers exactly what he did on July 20, 1969. Armstrong stepped off of Apollo 11’s lunar module, becoming the first human to walk on the moon. At that moment, he uttered his famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The brilliance of First Man, besides extraordinary visuals and soundscapes that allow viewers to join the Apollo crew, is how Chazelle spins the story as a journey. Working from Josh Singer’s screenplay, which was based on James R. Hansen’s book, Chazelle personalizes that journey from 1961 through 1969.

We see how the Cold War and competition from the Soviet Union fuelled the American space exploration program. We see how tragedy shattered it, pushing even the taciturn Armstrong to the brink. We see how political interference nearly scuttled it; and we see how the success of 1969 riveted millions on Planet Earth.

Yet that bigness is focused into tiny moments of humanity. Hollywood is often, and justly, accused of exaggerating or distorting true stories. But First Man rings truer than most of its kind. And, while other Hollywood space movies such as The Right Stuff (1983) and Apollo 13 (1995) lay claim to the same territory, First Man is the most visceral.

I wrote this column before the Hollywood awards season started in earnest. I am uneasy that First Man will fall short, because it does not possess the razzle-dazzle of The Right Stuff and Apollo 13. It also does not shimmer with the romance of the last Chazelle-Gosling collaboration, La La Land (2016).

That retro musical tied the all-time Oscar noms record with 14, winning six. I predict that First Man earns six nominations, winning two. But it is critical to emphasize that, regardless of awards, First Man is both exceptional and important. It will stand the test of time, just as Méliès’ fantasy (A Trip to the Moon) from 1902 does for its contribution to world cinema.

Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Lifereaders.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


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TAKE TWO: Moral Dilema

Moral dilemma: How do we separate the work from the person?

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Moral dilemma: How do we separate the work from the person?

by Bruce Kirkland

The #MeToo movement has already had a profound effect on society in general, and the entertainment industry in particular, especially in the United States.

This of course is a good thing, with the rules of engagement beginning to balance out in the Battle of the Sexes. The day of reckoning for perverts, deviants and sex criminals has become a year of vengeful justice, at least in the court of public opinion. Former film producer, Harvey Weinstein, is now a pariah who faces multiple charges. In September, comedian Bill Cosby was finally convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to prison after decades of eluding punishment. There are many other guilty parties, many of whom have had their careers, reputations and lives disrupted and/or destroyed.

The fact that #MeToo has done nothing to effect change in the White House, where an accused sex offender remains as U.S. president, is no reflection on the movement. Instead, it illustrates the insanity of American partisan politics.

But this column is not about politics – it’s about the entertainment industry. Getting Weinstein out of action and into court is a blessing. With dozens of accusers, and at least 13 women who allege that Weinstein raped them, this man should never be allowed to wield power and use it to abuse women. Nor should anyone else be so empowered, on any scale.

However, I’m struggling with an unfortunate side issue. How should I, or anyone else who supports the #MeToo Movement, deal with the cultural artifacts left behind? People I know, and respect, have struggled for years when watching actor/ director Woody Allen’s films, which include a clutch of American classics. Likewise, the often stunning work of actor/ director (and convicted sex offender) Roman Polanski is under scrutiny as he continues his career in exile. Polanski is about to shoot J’accuse, a truelife, 19th century drama about the Dreyfus affair – a miscarriage of justice.

Meanwhile, what do we do about our feelings towards the dozens of films produced by Harvey Weinstein since 1981? It’s easy to forget about his debut The Burning, a cheesy horror flick. It is difficult to deal with Pulp Fiction, The English Patient, Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love, Gangs of New York, Cold Mountain, The Aviator, The King’s Speech, The Artist, Django Unchained, Lion and many, many more titles.

CAPTION: Harvey Weinstein

Can we free ourselves of guilt by ignoring Weinstein’s involvement, instead focusing on the writers, directors, actors and technicians who made the films? This is my choice, but I do not feel 100 per cent confident. Doubts remain. Did any of these filmmakers know of Weinstein’s behaviour during their productions? If some of them did know, did they choose to let it slide for personal gain?

Other films not involving Weinstein are easier to deal with directly. But the moral choices are still challenging. American Beauty is also an American classic. Yet it happens to star Kevin Spacey, who is under investigation for a series of alleged sexual assaults in the U.S. and Britain. Right now, and perhaps forever, I cannot look at Spacey’s face in American Beauty, in past episodes of the otherwise brilliant TV series House of Cards, or in anything else.

And the sad truth is that Spacey is not the only one who has already ruined the experience of watching great films or TV shows.

Bruce Kirkland‘s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


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TAKE TWO: Bucket List Films

TAKE TWO: Bucket List Films

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TAKE TWO: Bucket List Films

by Bruce Kirkland

Instalment 1

In my 36 years as a film critic, and in the months since retiring from that joyous, if not tumultuous, career at The Toronto Sun, I have repeatedly been asked one question, with two major variations: “What is my favourite film?” and “What is the best film I’ve ever seen?”

Neither version is answerable, at least without caveats, context and waffling. So I am now launching an occasional series in Active Life – films that everyone who loves cinema should have on their bucket list. Watch them at least once, or maybe 100 times if you have the inclination. The titles I have in mind will endure, indefinitely.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the 1942 Hollywood classic – <em>Casablanca</em>
Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the 1942 Hollywood classic – Casablanca

My first bucket list entry is neither my favourite, nor near the best ever. However, Casablanca is so damned lovable, so impossibly satisfying, so slyly romantic, so morally fascinating and so mythological that it defies its own limitations and the ravages of time. It is a World War II suspense thriller made hurriedly and haphazardly in Hollywood in 1942. It is set in the Moroccan city during December of 1941, when Morocco was still an uneasy French colony ruled by the anti-semitic Vichy government.

The Holocaust, specifically, and the war refugee issue in general, are both critical undertones, with profound resonance. Some of the support actors (such as Peter Lorre), as well as almost all of the extras were refugees themselves, including many Jews. Thus, it is no accident that the scenes in Rick’s Café Américain are emotionally supercharged, in particular the famous anthem battle. German Nazis, led by Conrad Veidt’s odious Major Strasser, belt out their anti-French, patriotic song Die Wacht am Rhein, only to be drowned out bythe upwelling of the French anthem, La Marseillaise, begun by Paul Henried’s resistance leader Victor Laszlo.

Meanwhile, the romantic themes are pure melodrama. But it’s still cool to see Humphrey Bogart blossom in his first truly romantic lead role as the mysterious American ex-pat Rick Blaine. Initially, his performance is steeped in bitterness after being jilted during a Paris liaison; then he gradually turns selfless after Ingrid Bergman’s Ilsa Lund suddenly shows up again, with her heroic husband Victor.

A tease – do Rick and Ilsa share a bed once again? Cloying censorship forced director Michael Curtiz to eliminate direct references, leaving only innuendo. I still regret, in my one interview with Ingrid Bergman, that I failed to ask about Casablanca, about Bogie, about that sexual innuendo, and about her obsession with being filmed from the left side.

The film remains visually arresting for Arthur Edeson’s original black-and-white; for the now adorable cheap special effects (including the model airplane at the end); for the wonky lighting effects (airport lights illogically strafe Rick’s front door); for the performances that produced such memorable, if often misquoted dialogue, “Play it, Sam, play As Time Goes By“; for its complex sociopolitical subtext; and for the seat-of-the-pants denouement showing Rick walking off with the Vichy French police official, Claude Rains’ wonderfully contradictory Louis Renault. It really was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Bruce Kirkland’s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


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TAKE TWO: Serial Storytelling

TAKE TWO: Serial Storytelling

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TAKE TWO: Serial Storytelling

by Bruce Kirkland

I’m now a Netflix binge-watcher

Throughout my 38 years as a film critic, I rarely wrote about television. When I launched my film days at The Toronto Sun in 1980, most television wasn’t worth writing about, in any depth. How times have changed – and, absolutely, for the better as it relates to the small screen. Because popcorn blockbusters dominate in cinemas, the more-intimate, smaller-scale films (that burst with ideas and attitude) are harder to find. This has become a new golden age, especially with specialty channels shucking off the narrow-minded censorship that networks self-impose to placate sponsors. Great TV is easily accessible. My wife and I finally signed up for Netflix, which offers fresh storytelling of the serial kind.

I now find myself binge-watching. The latest addiction is the Netflix original, Grace and Frankie. We quickly ploughed through all four seasons, usually with glasses of wine in hand. I could say that it was in honour of Jane Fonda, who plays Grace, but the truth is, we love wine just as much as Fonda’s character, and it pairs well with the melodrama that Marta Kauffman and Howard J. Morris created in 2015.

(Left to right): Sam Waterston, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen.
(Left to right): Sam Waterston, Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, Martin Sheen.

The Kauffman/Morris premise is simple, and a little bit staged. The first season starts with two business partners – Martin Sheen as Robert and Sam Waterston as Sol – announcing the end of their marriages to their wives – Fonda as the steely and sardonic Grace, and Tomlin as the pot-smoking, hippy-dippy Frankie. The stagey bit is that Robert and Sol, both divorce lawyers, want their own divorces so that they can get married to each other after being secret lovers for two decades. The Robert/Sol relationship is less convincing than the unlikely, yet fascinating, friendship that develops between the two opposites – Grace and Frankie. I respect all four actors, each of whom I have interviewed. For the record, Fonda was always the most difficult and abrasive, but always engaging, so Grace shadows elements of Fonda’s own personality. At the other end of the spectrum, the utterly charming Waterston plays Sol like a giant muppet. In between, Sheen is stalwart as Robert, and Tomlin is the scene-stealing triumph as Frankie.

The real value of this series, however, is the way profound moments and genuine human behaviour are layered into the melodrama and comedy. The stars are mature actors, ranging in age from 77 to 80, and they talk openly about the complexities of sexuality, intimacy, love, loyalty, gender equality, sexual orientation, heartache, loss, tragedy, joy, friendship, booze, drugs, addiction and vibrators, along with the best/worst things about just living in their senior years as the twilight glimmers ahead. Bravo! I can’t wait for season five, coming to Netflix in 2019.

Bruce Kirkland’s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


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TAKE TWO: #MeToo / #Time's Up Movement

TAKE TWO: #MeToo / #Time’s Up Movement

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TAKE TWO: #MeToo / #Time’s Up Movement

by Bruce Kirkland

Hollywood is on the brink of a social revolution – and that bastion of secrecy, power, money and manipulation is long overdue for this dramatic change. It may disrupt what we see on the screen. Critically, it will cause upheavals behind the scenes in how TV shows and movies are made, with a spotlight on who wields the power, and how they treat others in their orbit.

Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd at the Governor's Ball (both are Weinstein victims)
Mira Sorvino and Ashley Judd at the Governor’s Ball (both are Weinstein victims)

The revolution involves women’s rights, which includes the freedom not to be raped, molested and harassed by accused serial monsters, such as disgraced Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein. There are other complex gender and LGBT rights to consider. There are also racial equity and acceptance rights that need addressing. There are cultural complexities in play, including the role of outsiders in deconstructing the American Dream. There is the thorny question of how child actors fare in a cutthroat business. And equal pay disputes.

Some of these human rights issues were on display during the recent season of award shows. My own group, the Toronto Film Critics Association, dealt openly with the social revolution, in part through a stirring speech by host Cameron Bailey, artistic director of TIFF.

On a wider landscape, the Academy Awards showcased the movement. While other moments can also be cited, I think the Oscars were a clearcut tipping point. It does not matter that these Oscars were a disappointment in the TV ratings game. And, while some viewers groused about the lack of star power among nominees, while others had reservations about host Jimmy Kimmell’s dry-bones sense of humour, it was obvious that something more fundamental was happening than just: let’s put on a show.

This show was orchestrated as a tribute to the #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements, among many causes. Oscar producers ensured a wide diversity in race, age, gender and culture amongst the presenters, singers and special guests. A power trio of actresses, Ashley Judd, Annabella Sciorra and Salma Hayek – all victims of Weinstein’s abuse (as was Mira Sorvino) – collectively spoke on the need for change. “Time’s up,” said Judd to rousing applause.

In an unscripted and uber-emotional moment, best actress winner Frances McDormand used her acceptance speech to energize the audience, encouraging all female nominees, in all categories, to stand up and be acknowledged. Get Out writer-director Jordan Peele – winner for best original screenplay – elegantly made sure that black lives also mattered that night.

Guillermo del Toro clutching his two Oscars for best director and for best picture – The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro clutching his two Oscars for best director and for best picture – The Shape of Water

The whole show was quietly electrifying and the best picture winner was especially gratifying. Few could have predicted a year ago that The Shape of Water – a made-in-Canada monster movie, from a Mexican-born filmmaker Guillermo del Toro – would triumph. Hurrah! The movie is sophisticated, romantic and literate. It is also rife with deep meaning. In essence, it explores the irrational fear of ‘the other’ – a condition which leads to abuse and exploitation. As his response to the fear-mongering coming from the White House, and the insanely stupid plan for a wall along the Mexican border, The Shape of Water is del Toro’s dreamscape vision for a future Hollywood – a Hollywood of social justice and inclusion.

Bruce Kirkland’s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


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Take Two: Mark Hamill - Mar/Apr2018

Take Two: Mark Hamill

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Take Two: Mark Hamill

by Bruce Kirkland

Episode VIII – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

For better, because it made Mark Hamill a Hollywood star, and for worse, because his iconic role in the original Star Wars trilogy became a curse, Hamill has lived with Luke Skywalker as his shadow.

The curse has now lifted, even though the shadow remains. After all, almost every movie fan, still living at least, has a Star Wars memory and more likely harbours some deep emotional connection to this pop culture phenomenon.

Mark Hamill, The Last Jedi (photo: courtesy of Walt Disney Studios and Lucasfilm)
Mark Hamill, The Last Jedi
(photo: courtesy of Walt Disney Studios and Lucasfilm)

As for Hamill, he is 66 and finally going through a healthy, mature-life transformation. He has joyously embraced Luke again in the current Star Wars reboot trilogy. We saw him in a teaser cameo two years ago in Episode VII: The Force Awakens. We see him in full glory in Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. It is a controversial, but brilliant, film that’s still in theatres, but coming soon to home entertainment on DVD, Blu-ray, digital download and streaming.

The Last Jedi showcases a mature, reflective and occasionally self-tortured Hamill in the performance of his life. “Well, you know, they say you can never go home again,” Hamill tells me in a recent interview. “And this disproves that.”

For that, Hamill confirms, we can thank the late Carrie Fisher (who tragically died at the age of 60, just after finishing all her own scenes for The Last Jedi). For this anecdote, flash back several years when J.J. Abrams came a-calling to offer Fisher a chance to reprise her equally iconic role as Luke’s twin sister, Princess Leia. Fisher said, “Yes!” quickly and emphatically. Hamill stalled, maintaining “my poker face.”

So Fisher went to visit him while he was performing in a play. She perused the Playbill – the theatre guide which included a Hamill biography. “What’s this line?” she barked at her old friend. “Mark Hamill, known for several space movies …” No specific mention of Star Wars. “Get over yourself.”

Hamill remembers responding: “I’m trying to have a theatre career and I don’t want it tainted by a bunch of movies that the critics turn their noses up at.”

Carrie Fisher at the World Premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, December 14, 2015. (photo: bigstockphoto.com)
Carrie Fisher at the World Premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, December 14, 2015.
(photo: bigstockphoto.com)

Fisher had the last word: “I’m Princess Leia and you’re Luke Skywalker. Get used to it.”

Hamill is now getting used to it again. “As usual,” says Hamill, as tears well up. “She was years ahead of me. We were siblings (in the Star Wars universe), but she was the smart one.”

It is never easy for ambitious actors to accept type-casting. It limits their opportunities. Years ago, Hamill went after the role of Mozart in the film version of Amadeus (1994). He had already played the part successfully on Broadway. “I don’t want Luke Skywalker in this film,” a studio executive reportedly said. Tom Hulce was cast instead, and was nominated for an Oscar. That stung. So did other twists of fate.

But Hamill is now beyond just being resigned. “If you can’t have fun making a Star Wars movie,” he says with a grin, “there’s something wrong with you – you’re in the wrong business.”

Bruce Kirkland’s career spans more than four decades, working as a film critic for The Toronto Star, The Ottawa Journal and for 36 years at The Toronto Sun.

A life-long film buff, Bruce now shares his passion and insight with Active Life readers.

bruce.kirkland@hotmail.com


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